2006 April: Millaroo (Queensland). Uranium, Selenium

2006 April: Millaroo (Queensland) – Uranium, Selenium

Townsvillle Bulletin 28Apr 2006

TAINTED water has been flowing through taps at Burdekin schools. Uranium and selenium has been detected in the Millaroo and Dalbeg water supplies at levels higher than the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines recommend.

Queensland Health has declared the water safe to drink, but rainwater tanks have been subsidised for concerned residents. Burdekin Shire Council CEO Graham Webb said the council was alerted to water quality issues earlier this year.

But while the council was responsible for the Ayr and Home Hill water supplies, Mr Webb said Sunwater administrated water supplies to the western townships of Clare, Dalbeg and Millaroo. Mr Webb said Sunwater was obliged to follow the same regulation for quality and quantity of drinking water as local governments.

“Regular testing is undertaken to ensure the palatability and safety of the drinking water” Mr Webb said.

Sunwater Ayr business manager Tom Wallwork said Sunwater identified the threat last year, while treatment plants were being upgraded across the State. Mr Wallwork said Sunwater began monthly tests of the two groundwater supplies at Dalbeg and Millaroo last February.

“The two small bore water supplies adjacent to the towns were found to contain uranium and selenium, which are naturally occurring in the groundwater out there” Mr Wallwork

“We had never tested for uranium before, which is also naturally occurring in the Burdekin catchment”. A consistent level was detected, and it was found to be slightly higher than the Australian Guidelines. We sought advice from Queensland Health, who told us there would be no adverse health effects”

Mr Wallwork said the small water supplies serviced eight properties in Dalbeg, and 14 in Millaroo, including the primary school. “We have notified community members and each customer was hand delivered a letter in March to explain the situation, so as not to cause panic”; he said.

But while the water has been declared safe to drink, Mr Wallwork said Sunwater would assist residents financially to install rainwater tanks, or upgrade old ones. Millaroo State School teaching principal Sue Jackson said the school had been proactive in supplying an alternative water supply for their 20 primary aged students.

“Either they can bring water from home, or get water from our filtered rainwater tank” she said.

Ms Jackson said the school had accepted Sunwater’s offer of assistance to help upgrade rainwater tanks. Ms Jackson said the community had not been unduly alarmed at the detection of uranium in the water. “A few people are concerned about the town’s swimming pool, but really it’s a fact of life now and country people will just get up and get on with it.”

Queensland Health Townsville director environmental services John Piispanen yesterday said the water posed no threat to community health. “Queensland Health undertook a detailed assessment of the water and it was considered safe to drink”. Mr Piispanen said. However, he would not reveal any possible health implications linked to drinking water with levels of uranium or selenium higher than the Australian standard.

“Queensland Health won’t speculate about possible implications if the water was not safe to drink”. Mr Wallwork said Ayr and Home Hill water supplies had also been tested. “They are no concern at all, they are well below the standard”.

Mr Wallwork said it was likely a uranium deposit behind Townsville at Keelbottom Creek was responsible for the tainted groundwater.